Spoiler Alert: Stay tuned tomorrow when I will be revealing the details of The Naptime Chef's exciting extracurricular summer project, "The Naptime Chef Great Ice-Cream Festival of 2009."
I am such a devoted lover of brownies, that, I swear, if someone sewed a brownie on a flag I would hang it on my front porch and, hand on my heart, pledge allegiance to it every morning. Last week my kitchen turned into a one-person brownie factory. I am not entirely sure what prompted my out-of-control brownie baking, but once I started, I could not stop. What began as one batch with simple peanut butter swirl, quickly became several batches with variations on swirl flavors, toppings and baking chocolates. In fact, halfway through the week my husband branded this baking crusade "The Naptime Chef Great Brownie Festival of 2009," gently insinuating I had crossed the line from leisurely baking to serious brownie production. By the end of the week I had made at least five different brownie flavors, three of which were delicious, and one of which was just so-so. Thankfully, I sent the vast majority of the completed batches to my husband's office (much to the appreciation of his colleagues), sparing me the prospect of spending the entire summer wearing a muu-muu. I did, however, taste test everything before it left the house and am excited to share my favorite results with you.
Brownies are perfect for Naptime Chef-ing on many levels. The ingredients are simple, the batter is very easy to prepare and the baking time is less than an hour. Last week's baking endeavor began when, using my favorite recipe for moist chocolate brownies, I swirled in some peanut butter. I love this combination because the brownies end up tasting like rich chocolate peanut butter cups, one of my favorite desserts. Inspired by this decadent treat I decided there was no time like the present to experiment with additional swirls like cream cheese and marmalade, flavors I had been meaning to try for a long time. The marmalade swirl idea originated with a recent Giada at Home episode where she swirls in raspberry jam with her brownies. Since I am a huge fan of the choco-orange flavor combination I figured I would add orange marmalade to see if I could recreate the flavor of a chocolate dipped orange peel, while adding slivered almonds for extra texture. The result was nothing short of heavenly, a moist chewy brownie imbued with a light orange flavor and a sweet nutty crunch.
I will spare you the details of the last two brownie experiments, let's just say they weren't up to snuff. I promise to share them with you eventually though, once I have worked on perfecting them. In the mean time, here are last week's "Festival" highlights for you all to enjoy. Rest assured, there are many more brownie flavor variations I adore (mint icing! caramel layers!) but I had to draw the line at some point. Perhaps, when my brownie cravings get the better of me again, I will commence "The Great Brownie Festival of 2010", but, until then, this is a great start.
Naptime's Go-To Brownies - adapted from a basic Gourmet recipe at least six years ago...
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 c. sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
2 T. cocoa powder
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Melt butter and chocolate together. I use the microwave, heating it in short intervals so the butter doesn't explode. Mix together until fully combined. Cool slightly.
3. Beat together eggs, vanilla, sugar and cocoa powder in a mixer until combined. Add chocolate mixer, beat until just combined.
4. Finally, add flour, baking powder and salt to the chocolate mixture and mix until the batter is totally incorporated. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the bottom of the bowl to make sure it all comes together.
5. Pour batter into butter 13x9 baking pan. Choose desired "Swirl Recipe" (see below), add to batter.
6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in the batter comes out clean.
OR If you want to use prepared Brownie Mix do the following:
*Buy a Brownie Mix for a 13x9 pan (usually this is called "Family Size").
*Prepare the batter using the "Cakey Brownie" option, this will hold up to the swirls better than the Fudge-like option.
Cream Cheese Swirl:
6 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
3 T. sugar
1 large egg yolk at room temperature
1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. vanilla extract
*Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat until combined and softened. Drop in spoonfuls on top of batter, swirl into batter with a knife, making a decorative pattern.
Peanut Butter Swirl - adapted from Martha Stewart
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c. confectioner sugar
3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 t. coarse salt
1 t. vanilla extract
*Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat until combined. Drop in spoonfuls on top of batter, swirl into batter with a knife, making a decorative pattern.
Orange Marmalade Swirl - (or, use any flavor jam you'd prefer) - adapted from Giada At Home
2/3 c. orange marmalade, heated until pourable
3/4 c. slivered almonds
*Heat jam until pourable, swirl it into brownie batter. Top with slivered almonds.